Gentle on My Mind

I remember him like this.

Why am I sobbing? Like, hard, ugly sobbing? Like, can’t catch my breath sobbing? Like, my heart is resting on the pulse of the fragility of what it is to be a human on this earth, our very short moments of doing whatever it is we came to do, to be, to shout, to cry, to struggle, to sing, to wail? It’s not like I was a huge Glen Campbell fan, although I did love some of his music a very long time ago. I watch the old video of him and John Hartford on the Smothers Brothers so very long ago, and I peer at his young, innocent face, and I know the way his story turned out — alcoholism, and marriages, and children, and then the scouring horror of Alzheimer’s — and I see that young face filled with the happiness of making his music and my heart just breaks for us all and I don’t honestly even know why.

If you haven’t watched the documentary about Glen Campbell’s long, hard fight with Alzheimer’s, on Netflix (I’ll Be Me), I recommend it. If you have loved someone who fought that demon, it might be too familiar to you, but it was a moving documentary; Marc and I both cried while we watched it. I think I was more of a Glen Campbell fan than Marc was (and it’s not like I knew much of his music), but we both cried while we watched it, and when I texted him to let him know that Glen Campbell died today, he was very upset, too. (You might also enjoy another documentary on Netflix called The Wrecking Crew, about studio musicians in the 1960s — Campbell was part of that group too, and it’s an astonishing movie.)

For some superficial reason, both young Glen Campbell and Gentle On My Mind remind me of another song I love so much, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy — that great opening song by Harry Nilsson, Everybody’s Talking At Me.

Campbell and Voigt both had the same kind of open, earnest face when they were young men, and the two songs share some kind of forward-moving beat, and general sensibility. Everybody’s Talking always makes me think of my dad, and as I cry so uncontrollably for Glen Campbell’s death, I wonder if in some way I’m crying for my dad. Who knows . . . but I do know that I can’t stop crying.

We are just brief thoughts on this earth. We appear and flash like fireflies, and it all seems so important, so big, so true, and we fight so hard and we get sick and addicted and we fail and we try and we lose and we love and are loved and we make and we create and then it’s gone. And it matters so very much, and it doesn’t matter at all, and still an older woman sits alone in her empty living room in the mountains crying so hard because a complete stranger has died, and he touched her life.

Here’s a YouTube mix of his songs, if you want to just stroll through his more popular songs. I hope he finally rests in peace, and I hope his family finds the peace they need after that horrible fight. Thanks for everything, Mr. Campbell. <3

bearing witness

In my own life, which has had an abundance of pain and trauma, I’ve had people very close to me tell me they couldn’t bear to hear a story, or perhaps they just withdrew in the midst of things and said they couldn’t bear it. As if I could! I couldn’t either, but I didn’t have a choice. And by telling me that they’re sorry, they couldn’t bear it, they are putting me outside humanity, in a way, though I doubt they realize that.

There is a photo in the media of a small dead boy in the surf, a refugee child, and many people are upset because the picture is there. Because they have to see it, because it’s too upsetting. IT IS! When I look at it I literally become unable to breathe. I have to turn my head for a moment so the hard lump gets out of my chest and throat, so I can take a breath eventually. That little boy, face down in the surf, could be Oliver in a different world. It’s excruciating. And people make all kinds of sophisticated arguments about the picture — it’s voyeurism, it’s unethical, it’s not doing anything but upsetting people, etc.

Does looking at the picture accomplish anything? What is served by my looking at it and getting so upset that I can’t breathe? It doesn’t put money in the hands of organizations and people who are able to help, that’s for sure. So what is the point?

I can bear witness. I can know what’s happening in the world, I can see that people are dying left and right in an effort to get their families to safety. By not turning my head, or turning the page, I can bear witness. It may be all I can do, but I can bear witness. I can know. The knowledge hurts. Since we have a little boy in our family it’s not a theoretical hurt, it’s specific. The little boy that we have seen in the surf is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have died. Adult men and women, young people, children, babies. And that doesn’t even count the people being murdered, the reason all these people are fleeing.

Why the picture? You could just read all the articles and learn what’s happening. I don’t know about you, but I have not read all the articles. I have not read many articles. I’ve had a vague awareness based on headlines only. But that picture forced me to know.

What does it mean if I turn away and refuse to look, refuse to know? Doing that means I privilege my own delicate sensibilities and put my fingers in my ears and say la la la la la!! I say, “Well, I know enough.” And maybe you do know enough! I’m just talking about me, and thinking this through. I’m sharing it here in case it’s something you hadn’t thought about, and perhaps you want to think about it, too. To ME, refusing to look is like living in the smoke shadow of a concentration camp and turning your head away, stuffing rags in the cracks of the windows so you don’t have to see it, smell it, know it.

My bearing witness means those people’s suffering is seen. They’d much rather have a home, food, safety, but not having those things and having the world turn away because it’s too hard to see, how AWFUL that is. Bearing witness feels like the absolute least I can do.

OandP090215The father of the little dead boy is the only surviving member of his family, and he has said that “the world has nothing for me now. I just want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.” Me, I get to see Oliver whenever I like, I get to hold him and laugh, watch him toddle away to chase a dog, carefully pick up bites of cheese quesadilla or watermelon. Me, I get to see Katie whenever I like, be in the presence of my daughter, talk to her, hug her. I get to talk to Marnie whenever I like, and see her when I can. If something happens, I get to go help them. If they need something, I ache if I can’t help them because they are everything to me. And if I lost all of them, I imagine I would feel just like that poor father. How can I decide it’s just too hard to look, and just hold my kids and grandson as if that’s the whole world?

It’s very hard to look. It really is. It’s so hard it makes me hurt, physically. It makes my chest hurt. I can’t catch a breath. My eyes fill with tears. My whole body aches. I can’t stay sitting in my comfortable chair, I tear my eyes away and stand up and pace, not seeing anything as I wander around my comfortable home. And eventually I can breathe again, and when the story comes up in the news, or the picture — and others — present themselves, I take a deep breath and prepare myself and bear witness. It’s the least I can do.

really not morbid #2

crete interior9
Obviously not a picture of the drive I’m describing! No way I could take a picture of it…..

And so we were driving along on some little dusty, rocky road on another mountainside in Crete. As was so often true, the mountain had slid onto the road and the rest of it looked like it could avalanche down at any second. The only space left to drive was on the outer edge — no guardrail! — which clung with a wince to the side of the very steep mountain. For hours I drove in first or second gear, and sometimes really needed a gear lower than first. On the rare straightaways, I’d glance up at the looming rocky mountain, crumbling visibly, eyeballing the boulders as best I could while I had a second.

So I said to Marc, “Are you always expecting at any moment that you’ll die?”

The guy is dark, first of all. Gloomy. Expecting the worst always. His people were Eastern European Jews, and he carries that historical burden in the furrows of his heart. Never forget who you are because they don’t, his explicit training as a kid. The worst, always, just waiting. But his answer to my question was a shocked, “No! I never think that! Do you?”

And me, the generally sunny side girl, the easily blissed-out person who cries with the breeze, I’m always sure that boulder is going to suddenly crack off the face of the mountain and land right on my head! The tires will give out on the curve. That oncoming car on Riverside Drive is going to careen right toward me and take me out and I’ll never have seen it coming. That heavy pulse in my carotid? Dead stroke, probably now, this will’ve been my last moment. These thoughts aren’t just sitting silently in my subconscious, they aren’t brought out only when I see the mountain slid onto the road, they aren’t present only in difficult times. I think these things all the time. And I think this goes perfectly together with the fact that I am the generally sunny side, easily blissed-out person. Cause, meet effect.

As the thoughts live in my head, the fullness of them goes like this:

A boulder/avalanche/stroke/drunk driver could kill me right at this moment! NOTICE THE CLOUDS! I could die in the next second, LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL FACE! If I were to die right now NOTICE HOW THE AIR SMELLS! Look at the beautiful sky, what an incredible world this is, how wonderful he is, she is, they are! How precious it is to have the chance to be a person here, to be part of the mud that sits up and looks around, as Vonnegut put it. What an incredible chance, notice it! Notice it, see it, watch it, relish it, love it, smell it, feel it, savor it, all of it! Right now, this is the moment, right now! NOW!

It’s terrible to be here sometimes. It’s excruciating sometimes. It’s cruel. It’s indifferent. It just is, whether we like it or not. We notice those things, we dwell in them, and sometimes they go on for a long, long, long time. I’m evaluating a book set in WWII and immersed in the extraordinary cruelty of man, after witnessing lots of leftover rubble of bombed-out buildings from WWII in Crete. Cruelty. I read stories of German soldiers marching the Cretan men into the ocean and shooting them. Horror. It’s terrible. Babies die. Mothers anguish. Nuns sell babies and lie to the separated mothers and children (I watched Philomena on the flight home). Terrible, cruel, horrible. Little kids are stabbed to death in elevators in Brooklyn on the way to get ice cream, random and for no reason. Horror. Today the evil “other” is this group, tomorrow it’s that. One day I might be in the “other” group and I’ll be killed because of it. Who knows, I don’t and you don’t. But today the sky is very very blue, did you notice it? The sun turns those new leaves into brilliant spots of young green that are so light it’s almost hard to look at them, did you catch it? I caught it. I caught the light through the curtain, I caught the kids laughing as they passed by, I caught the headache that is squeezing me and making me frown, I caught the way I wasn’t breathing right — take deep breaths, breathe! Hear. Smell. Look around, what’s that?

That is everything. This second, this breath, that moment of awareness, this glance, that thought, the air on my skin, the smile given to me, the smile I give back, the awareness of others, this is everything.

pokey

This doesn’t seem morbid to me, at all. It doesn’t seem dark, it doesn’t seem heavy, it doesn’t seem dreadful. I wonder if it seems that way to you! Instead, to me it seems like the only real reason to cherish the moments. It helps me remember to notice, it reminds me that it’s precious, extraordinary. You are extraordinary, you are precious, you matter, I’m glad to know you, I’m glad to be here, I’d rather have less of the awfulness but who wouldn’t. Breathe, see, notice, relish. Just for now.

being a knot

What a couple of days it’s been for people I love. A simple procedure for one friend unexpectedly revealed tentacles and now the world is very different for him and his wife, and for all of us who love them. An easy Sunday morning for another friend suddenly went blank and now there are tests and uncertainty. A third friend was preparing an Easter dinner to share with friends and family and the knife slipped pretty badly. The world turns on a dime.

Of course this is the downside of loving people. When you overlap with people, when your hearts mingle, your life can be cracked and even shattered when something happens to them. It’s no longer just yourself, just your family. It’s a wider world, more opportunities to have the rug pulled out. That’s the inherent risk in love and we all know it and we go along happily, we all do, expecting this little thing to go that way and be done, Sunday morning to lead seamlessly into Sunday afternoon, preparation to end with a meal shared by loved ones around the table. We all expect to see that friend at the party next week, to hear about the grand adventures of that couple we love, to relish hearing his stories and laugh, her adorable accent, again and again. Of course we will. But there is no of course.

And so again it’s time to relearn the old lesson. Cherish the invisible things, the things you don’t think twice about. Hey, my legs work! Both of them! Wow, I can see anything I want, how amazing — and hear whatever I want, too! What stunning gifts. I can go to the bathroom all by myself, what a luxury. I’m reasonably sure that the next couple months of my life are not going to be spent in the misery of a caustic treatment. Remember how great it is that your hands work. Be thankful every single time you remember something, even if you’re kind of forgetful in an ordinary way. Cherish the very real treasure of your memories — your own, and the ones you share with others. CHERISH THEM! They are treasures, never to be taken for granted. And how amazing it is that I’m bored lying here so I can just get up and go do anything I want. I can walk into the other room. I can get in my car and go wherever I want. I can cook myself a meal, I can read a book or watch a movie.

I’ve mentioned my daily gratitude email thing before. Like everyone, I have some really low days, days when everything seems all wrong, either kind of shitty or maybe SUPER shitty. When I lose track of things, when my perspective gets all wonky. On those days my little email arrives and I sit, staring at the screen, unable to think of a damn thing to be grateful for. (Most days my struggle is to just pick a few out of the ocean of things I am grateful for.) Now it’s time to re-remember this lesson, and on those low days I can easily say that I am grateful that my legs work, and not feel like I’ve just written something dumb so I don’t miss a day. I can write with deep gratitude that I am so very grateful I have eyes. All these things that are invisible to us until we lose them and we suddenly realize how precious they are.

And that’s just looking at the universe of my own working body. I have a grocery store nearby with so much food, so many kinds of food, I forget to be dazzled by it. (And I have enough money to buy food, also dazzling.) I have a television and the Internet and so I know what’s happening in places I will never see — and I know what those places look like. I’m so very extraordinarily lucky to have seen much of the world, so all those places belong to me now. Myanmar is mine, what a mind-blowing wonder is that. I know about the water cycle and can look at the clouds and see how part of the world is working. I know about chlorophyll and so I can look at trees and understand how that part of the world works. How incredible is that? I live in a place where the ground blooms with gorgeous wildflowers, as if by magic, to make us all happy for a while — fields of blue, hillsides that are coral and orange, sides of the highway shining yellow and pink. What a world, and I rarely give it a second thought.

Of course I’ll forget all this again, this insight will be like the wildflowers, blooming now while it’s raining but the sun will come out and life will keep going and this knowledge will go into hiding again, ready to bloom when people I love are at risk.

netI’ve written before about my idea of the net. As I said then, look at that image, see all the blank spaces? The net is mostly open air, mostly empty space. What holds it together, what holds you up and catches you when you fall, are the tiny, tiny, tiny little knobs, the tiniest little things, but there are lots of them and they connect. A net, a network, enough to save you if necessary. I am just one of the little knots in the net underneath my friends, nothing more, but how grateful I am to get to be one of those knots. How fine a thing it is to have the chance to help someone when you can. I think it’s probably the finest thing we do as people, submit our own selves and hearts to care for others. To be willing to suffer alongside them, to be willing and glad to not know what’s next with them, so they don’t have to not-know all alone.

For the first six months of 2012, my husband was undergoing such harrowing treatment, pure hell. There was some question of whether he would survive the treatment itself. Not everybody does. I hope never to go through that again, but I am so deeply glad that I had the privilege to do that with and for him. I say this without any kind of patting myself on the back, because I think it’s just a glory of being human, but helping him through that is without a doubt one of the finest things I have ever done in my life. In that case I was almost all the knots in the net, and the parts connecting the knots too. I hope with all my heart that my friends are going to prevail and come out on the other side with stories to tell, with brand new ways to empathize with people. I feel such enormous gratitude that I get to be a knot.

how it ends

not sure what Marc's grandpa name will be. He is a Russian Jew, but Russians call their grandfathers Dedushka, which seems a stretch here.
not sure what Marc’s grandpa name will be. Maybe Saba, which is a Jewish ‘cool grandfather’ name.

When Marc was here a couple of weekends ago, we were talking about him as Oliver’s grandfather. He talked about Katie’s dad as the grandfather, and said he can’t compete with him. I laughed, of course, and said there is no competition, that Oliver is just blessed with six grandparents, a modern family. So Marc said, “Well, maybe I can be the one who talks to him about death and impermanence.” That is SO MARC. It made me laugh, and I said yes, you can be the one who does that. He said someone needs to.

Marc is Jewish, but he’s Buddhist (aka JewBu). He meditates a lot on impermanence, after a lifetime of thinking about and fearing death. He remembers being a very little boy sitting in his closet being terrified about death, and believing, therefore, that nothing has any meaning. Like me, he read a little too much Camus as a kid.

I think about death too, not at all in the same way he does. Unlike Marc (though he may have changed his views by now), I think it’s death that gives our life a way to have meaning. Two days ago I had two pretty intense experiences thinking about death, which is unusual for me:

  1. You know how I like to think about the way everything is seamlessly connected to everything, that there are events on the road ahead of me, already on their way to me, and I am unaware of them. Some are inevitable and some may easily change course. I am on someone’s road heading toward them in the same way. The day before yesterday I was driving on the highway and suddenly wondered if I would be doing anything differently if I knew I was going to die later in the day. It felt absolutely true in that moment, not just an idle thought. Well hell yeah, of course! I’d be spending those hours with my family, telling them how much I have loved them and how much they have meant to me. But you know, I also have to make a living. I’d rather not have spent most of my last hours reading a crappy manuscript, but there are things we just have to do. I was thinking about the trite thing people say, the very thing I thought, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow….” but it isn’t that simple. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep in mind that tomorrow might be our last day so we shouldn’t waste today.
  2. That night I woke up in the middle of the night, like I always do, and started reading. Like I always do. I wasn’t feeling upset about anything, worried, unhappy, and I didn’t feel bad physically like I sometimes do in the middle of the night. My tummy often hurts when I wake up. But that night I was just reading the book for my book club, and all of a sudden I became gripped with a fear of dying. Just caught in the clutches of existential terror. All I could think was that I love my life so very much, I have so much to love, so much joy, so much to do, each day I love it so much and I don’t want it to end. I think that’s happened to me only two other times in my life.
Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

It probably won’t happen, but I might die today. Odds are seriously against it, and thank heavens for that. I’m just going to be at home all day and night, not going anywhere, and I’m in good health as far as I know. But just in case, know that I loved my whole life. Every little bit of it, the beautiful and horrible and sublime and ugly. I’ve loved so many people and have cherished the love from people in my life. I’ve noticed sunrises and sunsets. I’ve laughed myself into tears as I drove into the desert. I’ve dearly loved books and poetry. I got to wake up. I’ve launched three people into this world who are making it a better place, and now there is another member of my family in this world. I started as Pete and I will end as Pete.

I’ve seen so much of this beautiful world and it often made me cry with happiness.

  • With an overfull heart, I stood in front of Notre Dame, in Paris. I drove through yellow fields to see the cathedral at Chartres. I took the train through the Chunnel, and another train to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • I drank beer in a pub called ‘Jude the Obscure’ in Oxford, England.
  • I slept on a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, amid the karst pillars. They were eerily beautiful at dusk and dawn.
  • I sat in a little boat in the middle of the Ganges in Varanasi and watched the nighttime ceremony to put the Ganges to sleep, I watched cremations, and then I watched the morning puja.
  • Standing atop Macchu Picchu, I saw a sudden and enormous flock of green parrots appear and fly right in front of me, and a heart-shaped hole open up in the clouds behind them. I panted in the thin air of Colca Canyon and watched condors glide on the air currents, and I rode a boat across Lake Titicaca.
  • I fell off a bicycle in Amsterdam and was stared at by a stern Dutch man.
  • I ate an amazing waffle with chocolate and strawberries in the Grande Place in Brussels.
  • I’ve snorkeled off the Yucatan so many times, and off Honduras a couple of times.
  • I saw Ireland with Katie, my pretty green-eyed Irish girl. We seriously underestimated how long it would take us to drive from Derry to Belfast — on July 12.
  • In Dubrovnik, I learned how to see where the war destroyed the buildings by understanding the various colors of the tile roofs. I was surprised by Zagreb.
  • I rode a boat down the Mekong River in Vietnam and drifted among the floating market boats, guided by a man who fought as a soldier for the south — “on your side,” he told us. A very small Hmong woman held my hand and led me over rocks in Sapa, in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border.
  • So many wonderful Lao people greeted me with Sabaidee, and I learned that I love BeerLao. I fed monks in Luang Prabang, and ate enormous feasts in an alley lined with food vendors, $2 for a huge plate and a giant BeerLao.
  • One Thanksgiving I stood in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to come up.
  • I saw proboscis monkeys on Borneo, and a naughty macaque stole Marc’s drink.
  • Standing in the great hall of the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, I cried because I never thought I’d see it. I stared up at the brilliant mosaics I’d studied in an Art History class in Alabama.
  • I rode in a very quiet boat on very still water in Inle Lake among the stilted houses of Burmese people.
  • In Oaxaca I got food poisoning.
  • I bathed a pregnant elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, and chased a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean.
  • I drank some java on Java, and fought off monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, in Bali.

My beautiful life has been a creative act and I rarely took it for granted. I have felt like the luckiest person in the world. I hope the very same thing is true for you, in whatever form your life has taken.

the other side

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, real fire and brimstone stuff. The sermons kind of emphasized how terrible and worthless we were, the songs all sounded like dirges, and hell was as real as the hard pews that bruised our tailbones (because cushions are not mentioned in the Bible). In fact, and this is one of my favorite stories, when we were kids my sister and I played church. This meant getting a little cup of juice and a saltine, and passing the cracker back and forth, breaking off a tiny bit and putting it in our mouths while looking as miserable as we possibly could. That was the realistic bit. It wasn’t about the cracker or the juice, it was about the misery.

emptinessOver time I completely lost my faith and came to believe in a random universe, and then I spent some years as a Quaker, and now I’m probably appropriately called an agnostic. I just have no idea. It’s hard to say no to any possibility — my own daily life has taught me that, in spades. So I have no idea, though my default stance is mostly atheistic. I mostly believe that when I die, I am dead. That is that, the end of it, no more. To the degree I live on, it’s in the lives and memories of those who knew me, who came from me. Just about the only belief I do have is that my childhood lessons about what heaven and hell are like were all wrong. I don’t believe in those ‘places’ at all.

I love my life. I love that I get to be here, that it is so beautiful and terrible and thick and joyous and sorrowful. That there are so many places to see, experiences to have, people to love, things to do, pleasures to relish, and pain to grow from. I love all that. I don’t want my life to end, and of course I know it will. When I think about facing that final moment of leaving, it fills me with terror even though I haven’t been able to say exactly why. When I cross that threshold, my thought is that I will simply be no more, so it’s not as if I will “know” anything, it’s not as if I think I will be experiencing anything after I make the transition.

And then I read this line in The Death of BeesOne lovely character has this thought, addressed to his dead partner:  “I hope to die in my sleep, Joseph, not knowing, just closing my eyes and forgetting the things I am leaving behind. I don’t want to die with my heart breaking.” And THAT is it. That’s the fear, that’s the terror. To be dying with a breaking heart, to be clinging desperately and clutching the door frame. My Aunt Charlotte died like that, screaming that she did not want to die, and that just haunts me. What a horrible death. I am afraid of that. If it happened right now I would feel that way. NO NO NO, I do not want to die, I am not ready.

What a funny place to find myself, after spending periods of my life trying desperately to die, or hoping it would happen. Life is long, as Ishvar says in Rohinton Mistry’s gorgeous and heartbreaking book A Fine BalanceIf you’re lucky. If you are lucky, life is long and you travel on so many paths, most of which will be surprising, and if you are very lucky, like me, your life gets better and better and better. I hope with all my heart that my life is so long I get to learn what it’s like to be a dusty old great-grandmother, for a couple of generations of children to call me Pete. And I hope that when my time comes, I am graceful.

And on that note, happy Wednesday, y’all! 🙂  What a strange juxtaposition!

Grace Louise

A year ago today, Katie delivered little Gracie, her full-term stillborn daughter. It was just a knot in the umbilical cord, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out if that makes it even worse. Some days it feels like it does. There was nothing wrong with Katie or Grace, she would’ve been perfect, fine, alive.

It’s been a hard year. My own grief is probably 80% for my dear, dear daughter and her terrible loss and suffering, but there is a very potent ache and suffering for the loss of our little Gracie. Her quilt and Christmas stocking remain unfinished, and I think that’s such a good metaphor for this lost member of our family. Perfect and beautiful, but unfinished.

Gracie shows up most often in my dreams. In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a dream that was very clearly about Gracie, and I woke up in such terrible grief I was crying. But today we are all remembering October 21 of last year, the biggest tragedy my little family has experienced, by far. My divorce from my kids’ father was wrenching and devastating, but we all lived. It pales in comparison to this.

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about our family’s loss; I’ve grieved and grieved over this past year, and witnessed Katie’s and Trey’s ongoing grief and efforts to find their way forward. The sharpness of the grief has lessened for me, into something like a dull ache that can still stop me, but I don’t experience that every day. It comes in waves. Three weeks ago I was putting groceries in my car at the supermarket and got hit by such a powerful wave of grief and anguish, I had to stop and get in the car and burst out crying, clutching the steering wheel to steady me. It lasted for five minutes, and then I continued putting away the groceries. It’s like that. Grief is an animal that has its own life and it takes up residence. It hibernates sometimes, but it’s still and always there, waiting for you.

And so today I can only acknowledge this one-year anniversary, and honor the memory of our little Grace Louise. We all loved her so much. I didn’t write a post on this day last year, obviously, but I wrote a lot in the 10 days afterwards. This post, written the night before I left to return to New York — never dreaming of the devastation that awaited me — is the most ‘popular’ post I’ve ever written. It has been shared widely, it received a lot of comments and caused so many people to write me private emails, and it’s received the most hits of anything I’ve ever written. It’s titled ‘notes from the mother in the middle of the night‘ and I think it really captures the moment in a way that is true and honest. I cannot read it without crying.

Poetry is such a comfort, and in the days around our loss I posted a good bit of poetry. Sometimes the comfort is nothing more than a clear articulation of the formless feeling that haunts you, but that is a comfort. I just found this one, and it speaks to the effect of time, how easy it is to forget, and how awful it can be.

GRIEF, by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.

Today I am also flying back to Austin so it’s a difficult day in so many ways. Tomorrow will be better. I know it will. xo